GAMEDAY NOTES AND QUOTES: AMERKS START POST ALL-STAR BREAK AGAINST CRUNCHFeb 9, 2024
By Andrew Mossbrooks | @Mossbrooks48
The Rochester Americans (21-16-3-1) are back from the AHL’s All-Star break and start a home-and-home series with the Syracuse Crunch (24-14-3-2) tonight at Blue Cross Arena.
“The pro schedule is such that whenever the break is, you take it and you relish it,” said Amerks head coach Seth Appert. “Whenever there’s a break, whether you’re humming or you’re struggling, you’ve got to take the break and take the rest and use it to your advantage.”
Rochester entered the break on a high note, earning a 3-1 win in Laval last Saturday. Tonight is the sixth of 12 encounters with Syracuse for the Amerks, who have gone 2-3-0-0 in the five previous matchups. The road team has won each game in the season series thus far.
THE BENEFIT OF REST
Following Saturday’s win in Laval, the Amerks went on an AHL-mandated break in their schedule, which prevented teams from gathering for practices until Thursday. With the exception of Isak Rosen and Jiri Kulich (who attended the All-Star Classic in San Jose), the remaining Amerks received four days away from Blue Cross Arena.
“It was nice to spend time with my family,” said Appert. “It’s nice to take a step away for a couple days, but I think all coaches start to have their minds spin after a couple days off. You start thinking of things you can get better at individually or collectively. Now it’s time to get back after it.”
“I got to go to Toronto for a couple of days,” said Brandon Biro. “It was nice to get away and reset. You have to (take advantage of rest), especially with our schedule coming up here. There’s not really time for breaks from here on out. We’re going at it the rest of the year, so I think it’s important physically and just as much mentally to get away. It’s something I’ve come to appreciate more as my years have gone on in this league.”
Beginning Feb. 14, the Amerks will enter a daunting stretch in which the team plays seven games over 11 days, with five coming in the span of just seven days from Feb. 18-24.
“It’s important just mentally to get a little refresh,” said Kale Clague. “This is the last push of the season, so to get a little recharge is big.”
FINDING THE POWER
The Amerks have found themselves in a bit of a funk on their special teams of late. The power-play in particular has labored, with the team going two for its last 31 man-advantages over the past 10 games.
“They need to simplify and shoot the puck more,” said Appert. “That’s easier said than done. Our breakout numbers continue to be good, but we don’t shoot enough on the power-play. We’re probably too cute and we aren’t taking advantage of the greatest strength of the power-play which is (Brett) Murray and (Michael) Mersch at the front of the net.”
“Cute plays aren’t there when you’re trying to make cute plays. Seam passes, backside one-timers; they open up after you put your opponent in chaos. The only way you can put your opponent in chaos is by shooting and recovering rebounds because then they’re out of structure.”
“I think a lot of it comes down to confidence,” said Biro. “It’s like any other part of the game. When things aren’t going well, you overthink things and start to panic a little bit. You’re not sure of the decisions that you’re making. We need to try and focus on shooting more. We’re just going to keep it simple and I think once we get one you’ll see that snowball effect and we’ll start to get a lot. What we’re doing is going to work if we execute and don’t do anything too crazy.”
Seven points separate Syracuse and Rochester in the North Division Standings, with the Amerks yielding two games in hand. With back-to-back matchups against one another, a huge opportunity presents itself for the Amerks to grab four points on the weekend to inch closer to closing the gap on their interstate foe.
“Usually it’s pretty low-chance games,” said Biro. “Often times it’s about who plays mistake-free hockey. Usually against these guys you’re going to get one or two chances a game and you really got to capitalize. It just shows how tough it is to create offense.”
“They sit back and they like to play structured hockey,” said Clague. “When we’re playing our best game, we like to play fast and going on the attack. Whenever we can get them out of their structure and use our legs and our speed and our skill, that’s when we’re going to take advantage of them. It’s a huge weekend. We just want to take it one shift at a time and set the tone for the weekend.”
“I’m a believer that the biggest game you play is the next game in front of you,” said Appert. “Whether that’s an Atlantic Division team or a North Division team. The standings are incredibly tight. You’ll learn hard lessons in this division if you start thinking one game is more important than another game. The next game in front of you is the most important game and right now that’s Syracuse tonight.”